Questions & Answers

(Interview by Nick Patterson, the Lede, December 11, 2022)

“The Objective of ComebackTown has been to create a platform to discuss the best and worst of Birmingham”

David Sher is an unapologetic Birmingham booster, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see the Magic City’s flaws.

In his regular ComebackTown column (which appears in Lede), Sher chides the shortcomings, promotes the positives, reminiscences a bit, and talks about the Birmingham of Tomorrow.

“When I speak to groups, I always ask the audience to raise their hands if they think Birmingham has reached its potential.   No one has ever raised a hand. Birmingham has always been called the “City of Perpetual Promise.” The purpose of ComebackTown is to help fulfill that promise. Why do we continue to lose our jobs and our children to other cities?”

Sher is a business man by trade, he ran AmSher Compassionate Collections for years. He has a resume that helps explain his fire to see Birmingham move forward.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

He took a chunk of his busy week to answer to answer some questions for Lede.

Why and when did you start publishing ComebackTown?

ComebackTown began publication January, 2012.

I attended a civic club meeting at the Harbert Center downtown earlier that month. I sat at a table with several Mountain Brook men. Each spoke with pride about their children who had left Birmingham.

I found the conversation unsettling.

These men lived in a well-to-do Birmingham suburb with good schools, beautiful neighborhoods, with kind and welcoming neighbors—yet they accepted, without hesitation, their children’s choice to move away.

Birmingham’s located in the heart of the Sunbelt, the fastest growing region in America, yet our children are compelled to leave the state for opportunities.

Since I had some social media background I decided to write a weekly on-line column to initiate a conversation on how we might create opportunities for our children.

What were the plans for your column?

 I had no plan.

I thought I would write a few columns to see if anyone had an interest in furthering the conversation.

Within a month, Al.com asked permission to republish ComebackTown, which immediately expanded the audience. Then the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) began republishing columns related to business. Soon I began publishing the ComebackTown newsletter which grew the audience even more.

How large is your audience?

 I never anticipated the fast growth.

There are clearly thousands of people who would like to see our Birmingham region grow and prosper.

ComebackTown publishes columns on its own website, social media, Al.com, The Birmingham LEDE (Alabama Media Group’s daily electronic newspaper), and business related articles in the BBJ newspaper and on-line.

About 10,000 people subscribe to the ComebackTown newsletter which creates an opportunity to mobilize folks if an opportunity presents itself.

ComebackTown gets about 100,000 page views a month.

Do you receive negative comments or criticism?

 You bet I do!

 There’s probably never been a column published by ComebackTown that didn’t receive some push back—what else would you expect from the Internet? There are the ‘Birmingham haters,’ who spend their lives trying to tear down Birmingham. Then there are the Birmingham supporters who get defensive when the columns aren’t red roses and blue skies.

ComebackTown was not created with the intent to become a rah-rah, everything is always great Chamber of Commerce site.

The objective has been to create a platform to discuss the best and worst of Birmingham and to initiate conversations that aren’t available elsewhere.

No advertising is accepted on the ComebackTown site so it is not under the influence of advertisers. This has given me and my guest columnist’s freedom to speak freely.

Do you feel ComebackTown is making a difference?

 Absolutely!

The only reason I publish ComebackTown is to make a difference and to provide a positive force for our community.

Initial columns were to promote regionalism which still our centerpiece. But within a few weeks, I began to hear from folks who had strong opinions about Birmingham, both positive and negative, so I invited them to write guest columns.

Our biggest victory is an increased understanding by elected officials and the public of the important of regional cooperation.

In 2019, the Jefferson County mayors signed the Good Neighbor’s Pledge, an agreement not to pilfer businesses from one another. This has led to greater trust among the mayors creating more opportunities to collaborate.

The idea for The Birmingham Promise was first broached in ComebackTown in 2014—many years before it was initiated by the City of Birmingham and the Birmingham School System. The Birmingham Promise offers free college tuition and apprenticeships to City of Birmingham high school graduates.

There are now ongoing discussions to expand the Alabama Walk of Fame in downtown Birmingham to honor more famous Alabamians.

Other ideas being considered are high speed rail, consolidation of jails and consolidation of 911 emergency call centers.

Are there benefits you have received personally?

 Absolutely!

Most of my life there was no Facebook so I lost contact with many of my friends.

Now I regularly hear from friends in Birmingham and around the U.S.

This year I received an e-mail from my closest childhood buddy who I hadn’t seen since 5th grade.

He’s a retired doctor living in Pensacola. It was quite a jolt to have the opportunity to catch up.

And I’m constantly connecting guest columnists who hear from their friends or from people who want to get to know them better.

Is there Comeback progress in Birmingham?

 You bet there is!

 Birmingham’s comeback began in 2010 with the opening of Railroad Park. Since then we have piled on one success after another. Regions Field, Rotary Trail, Protective Stadium, and the possibility of a newly proposed Birmingham amphitheater. Then there are UAB’s continued expansion, redevelopment of midtown, and major developments at Carraway and Southtown.

Over 10,000 people now live in the City Center. There are more than 2,500 apartments and condos opening this year, under construction, or firmly committed. Continuation at this rate of development will easily double the population of the City Center in less than 10 years.

Yes, Birmingham is a comeback town.

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To begin a conversation about a better Birmingham